These sentiments are more than echoed by the enamoured Siegfried, who is beside himself with rapture at the mere thought of possessing the glorious creature, who has forgotten all her divine state to become naught but a loving and lovable woman.
DUSK OF THE GODS.
The Norns, or Northern goddesses of fate, are seen in the dim light before dawn, busily weaving the web of destiny on the rocky hillside where the Walkyries formerly held their tryst. As they twist their rope, which is stretched from north to south, they sing of the age of gold. Then they sat beneath the great world-ash, near the limpid well, where Wotan had left an eye in pledge to win a daily draught of wisdom.
They also sing how the god tore from the mighty ash a limb which he fashioned into an invincible spear. This caused the death of the tree, which withered and died in spite of all their care. The third Norn then continues the tale her sisters have begun, and tells how Wotan came home with a shivered spear one day, and bade the gods cut down the tree. Its limbs were piled like fuel all around Walhalla, the castle which the giants had built, and since then Wotan has sat there in moody silence, awaiting the predicted end, which can no longer be far distant.
While they are singing, the barrier of flame in the background burns brightly, and its light grows pale only as dawn breaks slowly over the scene. The rope which the Norns are weaving then suddenly parts beneath their fingers; so they bind the fragments about them and sink slowly into the ground, to join their mother Erda, wailing a prophecy concerning the end of the old heathen world:—
'Away now is our knowledge! The world meets From wisdom no more; Below to Mother, below!'
As they vanish, the day slowly breaks, and Siegfried and Brunhilde come out of the cave. The former is in full armour and bears a jewelled shield, the latter leads her horse, Grane, by the bridle. Tenderly Brunhilde bids her lover farewell, telling him that she will not restrain his ardour, for she knows it is a hero's part to journey out into the world and perform the noble tasks which await him. But her strength and martial fury have entirely departed since she has learned to love, and she repeatedly adjures him not to forget her, promising to await his homecoming behind her flickering barrier of flame, and to think constantly of him while he is away. Siegfried reminds her that she need not fear he will forget her as long as she wears the Nibelung ring, the seal of their troth, and gladly accepts from her in exchange the steed Grane. Although it can no longer scurry along the paths of air, this horse is afraid of nothing, and is ready to rush through water and fire at his command.
As Siegfried goes down the hill leading his steed, Brunhilde watches him out of sight, and it is only when the last echoes of his hunting horn die away in the distance that the curtain falls.
The next scene is played at Worms on the Rhine. Gunther and his sister Gutrune are sitting in their ancestral hall, with their half-brother Hagen. He is the son of Alberich, and has been begotten with the sole hope that he will once help his father to recover the Nibelung ring. Hagen advises Gunther to remember the duty he owes his race, and to marry as soon as possible, and recommends as suitable mate the fair Brunhilde, who is fenced in by a huge barrier of living flame.
Gunther is not at all averse to matrimony, and is anxious to secure the peerless bride proposed, yet he knows he can never pass through the flames, and asks how Brunhilde is to be won. Hagen, who as a Nibelung knows the future, foretells that Siegfried, the dauntless hero, will soon be there, and adds that, if they can only efface from his memory all recollection of past love by means of a magic potion, they can soon induce him to promise his aid in exchange for the hand of Gutrune.
As he speaks, the sound of a horn is heard, and Hagen, looking out, sees Siegfried crossing the river in a boat, and goes down to the landing with Gunther to bid the hero welcome. Hagen leads the horse away, but soon returns, while Gunther ushers Siegfried into the hall of the Gibichungs, and enters into conversation with him. As Siegfried's curiosity has been roused by the strangers calling him by name, he soon inquires how they knew him, and Hagen declares that the mere sight of the tarn-cap had been enough. He then reveals to Siegfried its magical properties, and asks him what he has done with the hoard, and especially with the ring, which he vainly seeks on his hand. Siegfried carelessly replies that the gold is still in the Neidhole, guarded by the body of the dragon, while the ring now adorns a woman's fair hand. As he finishes this statement, Gutrune timidly draws near, and offers him a drinking horn, the draught of welcome, in which, however, the magic potion of forgetfulness has been mixed.
Siegfried drains it eagerly, remarking to himself that he drinks to Brunhilde alone. But no sooner has he partaken of it than her memory leaves him, and he finds himself gazing admiringly upon Gutrune. Gunther then proceeds to tell Siegfried the story of Brunhilde, whom he would fain woo to wife. Although the hero dreamily repeats his words, and seems to be struggling hard to recall some past memory, he does not succeed in doing so. Finally he shakes off his abstraction, and ardently proposes to pass through the fire and win Brunhilde for Gunther in exchange for Gutrune's hand:—
'Me frights not her fire; I'll woo for thee the maid; For with might and mind Am I thy man— A wife in Gutrun' to win.'
The two heroes now decide upon swearing blood brotherhood according to Northern custom,—an inviolable oath,—and, charging Hagen to guard the hall of the Gibichungs, they immediately sally forth on their quest.
Brunhilde, in the mean while, has remained on the Walkuerenfels anxiously watching for Siegfried's return, and spending long hours in contemplating the magic ring, her lover husband's last gift. Her solitude is, however, soon invaded by Waltraute, one of her sister Walkyries. She informs her that Wotan has been plunged in melancholy thought ever since he returned home from his wanderings with a shattered spear, and bade the gods pile the wood of the withered world-ash all around Walhalla. This he has decided shall be his funeral pyre, when the predicted doom of the gods overtakes him.
Waltraute adds also that she alone has found the clue to his sorrow, for she has overheard him mutter that, if the ring were given back to the Rhine-daughters, the curse spoken by Alberich would be annulled, and the gods could yet be saved from their doom:—
'The day the River's daughters Find from her finger the ring, Will the curse's weight Be cast from the god and the world.'
Brunhilde pays but indifferent attention to all this account, and it is only when Waltraute informs her that it is in her power to avert the gods' doom by restoring the ring she wears to the mourning Rhine-daughters, that she starts angrily from her abstraction, swearing she will never part with Siegfried's gift, the emblem and seal of their plighted troth.
Waltraute, seeing no prayers will avail to win the ring, then rides sadly away, while the twilight gradually settles down, and the barrier of flames burns on with a redder glow. At the sound of a hunting horn, Brunhilde rushes joyously to the back of the scene, with a rapturous cry of 'Siegfried!' but shrinks suddenly back in fear and dismay when, instead of the bright beloved form, a dark man appears through the flickering flames. It is Siegfried, who, by virtue of the tarn-helmet, has assumed Gunther's form and voice, and boldly claims Brunhilde as his bride, in reward for having made his way through the barrier of fire. Brunhilde indignantly refuses to recognize him as her master. Passionately kissing her ring, she loudly declares that as long as it graces her finger she will have the strength to repulse every attack and keep her troth to the giver. This declaration so incenses Siegfried—who, owing to the magic potion, has entirely forgotten her and her love—that he rushes towards her, and after a violent struggle wrenches the ring from her finger, and places it upon his own.
Cowed by the violence of this rude wooer, and deprived of her ring, Brunhilde no longer resists, but tacitly yields when he claims her as wife, and both soon disappear in the cave. There Siegfried, mindful of his oath to marry her by proxy only, lays his unsheathed sword between him and his friend's bride:—
'Now, Nothung, witness well That faithfully I wooed; Lest I wane in truth to my brother, Bar me away from his bride!'
Hagen, left alone at Worms to guard the hall of the Gibichungs, is favored in his sleep by a visit from his father, Alberich. The dwarf informs him that ever since the gods touched the fatal ring their power has waned, and that he must do all in his power to recover it from Siegfried, who again holds it, and who little suspects its magic power. As Alberich disappears, carrying with him Hagen's promise to do all he can, the latter awakens just in time to welcome the returning Siegfried. The young hero joyfully announces the success of their expedition, and rapturously claims Gutrune as his bride. After hearing her lover's account of his night's adventures, the maiden leads him into the hall in search of rest and refreshment, while Hagen, summoning the people with repeated blasts of his horn, admonishes them to deck the altars of Wotan, Freya, and Donner, and to prepare to receive their master and mistress with every demonstration of joy. The festive preparations are barely completed, when Gunther and Brunhilde arrive. The bride is pale and reluctant, and advances with downcast eyes, which she raises only when she stands opposite Gutrune and Siegfried, and hears the latter's name. Dropping Gunther's hand, she rushes forward impetuously to throw herself in Siegfried's arms, but, arrested by his cold unrecognising glance, she tremblingly inquires how he came there, and why he stands by Gutrune's side? Calmly then Siegfried announces his coming marriage:—
'Gunther's winsome sister She that I wed As Gunther thee.'
Brunhilde indignantly denies her marriage to Gunther, and almost swoons, but Siegfried supports her, and, although Brunhilde softly and passionately asks him if he does not know her, the young hero indifferently hands her over to Gunther, bidding him look after his wife.
At a motion of his hand, Brunhilde's attention is attracted to the ring, and she angrily demands how he dare wear the token which Gunther wrested from her hand.
Bewildered by this question, Siegfried denies ever having received the ring from Gunther, and declares he won it from the dragon in the Neidhole; but Hagen, anxious to stir up strife, interferes, and elicits from Brunhilde an assurance that the hero can have won the ring only by guile.
A misunderstanding now ensues, for while Brunhilde in speaking refers to their first meeting, and swears that Siegfried had wooed and treated her as his wife, he, recollecting only the second encounter, during which he acted only as Gunther's proxy, denies her assertions.
Both solemnly swear to the truth of their statement upon Hagen's spear, calling the vengeance of Heaven down upon them in case of perjury. Then the interrupted wedding festivities are resumed, for Gunther knows only too well by what fraud his bride was obtained, and thinks the transformation has not been complete enough to blind the wise Brunhilde.
As Siegfried gently leads Gutrune away into the hall, whither all but Hagen, Gunther, and Brunhilde follow him, the latter gives way to her extravagant grief. Hagen approaches her, offering to avenge all her wrongs, and even slay Siegfried if nothing else will satisfy her, and wipe away the foul stain upon her honour. But Brunhilde tells him it is quite useless to challenge the hero, for she herself had made him invulnerable to every blow by blessing every part of his body except his back. This she deemed useless to protect, as Siegfried, the bravest of men, never fled from any foe:—
So wounds him nowhere a weapon?
In battle none:—but still Bare to the stroke is his back Never—I felt— In flight he would find A foe to be harmful behind him, So spared I his back from the blessing.'
Her resentment against Siegfried has reached such a pitch, however, that she finally hails with fierce joy Hagen's proposal to slay him in the forest on the morrow. Even Gunther acquiesces in this crime, which will leave his sister a widow, and they soon agree that it shall be explained to Gutrune as a hunting casualty.
At noon on the next day Siegfried arrives alone on the banks of the Rhine, in search of a quarry which has escaped him. The Rhine daughters, who concealed it purposely in hopes of recovering their ring, rise up out of the water, and swimming gracefully around promise to help him recover his game if he will only give them his ring. Siegfried, who attaches no value whatever to the trinket, but wishes to tease them, refuses it at first; but when they change their bantering into a prophetic tone and try to frighten him by telling him the ring will prove his bane unless he intrust it to their care, he proudly answers that he has never yet learned to fear, and declares he will keep it, and see whether their prediction will be fulfilled:—
'My sword once splintered a spear;— The endless coil Of counsel of old, Wove they with wasting Curses its web; Norns shall not cover from Nothung! One warned me beware Of the curse a Worm; But he failed to make me to fear,— The World's riches I won with a ring, That for love's delight Swiftly I'd leave; I'll yield it for sweetness to you; But for safety of limbs and of life,— Were it not worth Of a finger's weight,— No ring from me you will reach!'
The Rhine maidens then bid him farewell, and swim away repeating their ominous prophecy. After they have gone, the hunting party appear, heralded by the merry music of their horns. All sit down to partake of the refreshments that have been brought, and as Siegfried has provided no game, he tries to do his share by entertaining them with tales of his early youth.
After telling them of his childhood spent in Mime's forge, of the welding of Nothung and the slaying of Fafnir, he describes how a mere taste of the dragon's blood enabled him to understand the songs of the birds. Encouraged by Hagen, he next relates the capture of the tarn-helm and ring, and then, draining his horn in which Hagen has secretly poured an antidote to the draught of forgetfulness administered by Gutrune, he describes his departure in quest of the sleeping Walkyrie and his first meeting with Brunhilde. At the mere mention of her name, all the past returns to his mind. He suddenly remembers all her beauty and love, and starts wildly to his feet, but only to be pierced by the spear of the treacherous Hagen, who had stolen behind him to drive it into his heart.
The dying hero makes one last vain effort to avenge himself, then sinks feebly to the earth, while Hagen slips away, declaring that the perjurer had fully deserved to be slain by the weapon upon which he had sworn his false oath. Gunther, sorry now that it is too late, bends sadly over the prostrate hero, who, released from the fatal effects of Gutrune's draught, speaks once more of his beloved Brunhilde, and fancies he is once more clasped in her arms as of old.
Then, when he has breathed his last, the hunters place his body upon a shield and bear it away in the rapidly falling dusk, to the slow, mournful accompaniment of a funeral march, whose muffled notes fall like a knell on the listener's ear.
Gutrune, who has found the day very long indeed without her beloved Siegfried, comes out of her room at nightfall, and listens intently for the sound of the hunting horn which will proclaim his welcome return. She is not the only watcher, however, for Brunhilde has stolen down to the river, and her apartment is quite empty.
Suddenly Hagen comes in, and Gutrune, terrified at his unexpected appearance, anxiously inquires why she has not heard her husband's horn. Without any preparation, roughly, brutally, Hagen informs her the hero is dead, just as the bearers enter and deposit his lifeless body at her feet.
Gutrune faints, but when she recovers consciousness she indignantly refuses to credit Hagen's story, that her husband was slain by a boar. She wildly accuses Gunther, who frees himself from suspicion by denouncing Hagen. Without showing the least sign of remorse, the dark son of Alberich then acknowledges the deed, and, seeing that Gunther is about to appropriate the fatal ring, draws his sword and slays him also. Wildly now Hagen snatches at the ring, that long coveted treasure; but he starts back in dismay without having secured it, for the dead hand is threateningly raised, to the horror of all the spectators.
Next Brunhilde comes upon the scene, singing a song of vengeance; and when Gutrune wildly accuses her of being the cause of her husband's murder, she declares that she alone was Siegfried's lawful wife, and that he would always have been true to her had not Gutrune won him by the ruse of a magic draught. Sadly Gutrune acknowledges the truth of this statement, and, feeling that she has no right to mourn over the husband of another woman, she creeps over to Gunther's corpse and bends motionless over him.
Brunhilde's anger is all forgotten now that the hero is dead, and, after caressing him tenderly for a while, she directs the bystanders to erect a huge funeral pyre. While they are thus occupied she sings the hero's dirge, and draws the ring unhindered from his dead hand. Then she announces her decision to perish in the flames beside him, and declares the Rhine maidens can come and reclaim their stolen treasure from their mingled ashes:—
'Thou guilty ring! Running gold! My hand gathers, And gives thee again. You wisely seeing Water sisters, The Rhine's unresting daughters, I deem your word was of weight! All that you ask Now is your own; Here from my ashes' Heap you may have it!— The flame as it clasps me round Free from the curse of the ring!— Back to its gold Unbind it again, And far in the flood Withhold its fire, The Rhine's unslumbering sun, That for harm from him was reft.'
The curse of the ring is at an end. The ravens of Wotan, perching aloft, fly heavily off to announce the tidings in Walhalla, while Brunhilde, after seeing Siegfried's body carefully deposited on the pyre with all his weapons, kindles the fire with her own hand. Then, springing upon Grane, she rides into the very midst of the flames, which soon rise so high that they swallow her up and entirely hide her from the spectators' sight.
After a short time the flames die down, the bright light fades, the stage darkens, and the river rises and overflows its banks, until its waves come dashing over the funeral pyre. They bear upon their swelling crests the Rhine maidens who have come to recover their ring, Hagen, standing gloomily in the background, becomes suddenly aware of their intention, wildly flings his weapons aside, and rushes forward, crying, 'Unhand the ring!' But he is caught in the twining arms of two of the Rhine maidens, who draw him down under the water, and drown him, while the third, having secured the Nibelung ring, returns in triumph on the ebbing waves to her native depths, chanting the Rhinegold strain. As she disappears, a reddish glow like the Aurora Borealis appears in the sky. It grows brighter and brighter, until one can discern the shining abode of Walhalla, enveloped in lurid flames from the burning world-ash, and in the centre the assembled gods calmly seated upon their thrones, to submit to their long predicted doom, the 'Goetterdaemmerung.'
 See Prof. G.T. Dippold's 'Ring of the Nibelung.'
It was while he was searching for the material for Tannhaeuser, that Wagner came across Wolfram von Eschenbach's poems of 'Parsifal' and 'Titurel,' and, as he reports, 'an entirely new world of poetical matter suddenly opened before me.' Wagner made no use of this idea, however, until 1857, some fifteen years later, when he drew up the first sketch of his Parsifal, during his residence at Zurich; twenty years later he finished the poem at Bayreuth. He then immediately began the music, although he was sixty-five years of age. That same year, while he was making a concert tour in London, he read the poem to a select audience of friends, by whose advice it was published.
Although the music for this opera, which is designated as 'a solemn work destined to hallow the stage,' was finished in 1879, the instrumentation was completed only in 1882, at Palermo, a few months before its first production at Bayreuth.
This opera, which Wagner himself called a religious drama, is intended as the 'Song of Songs of Divine Love, as Tristan and Ysolde is the Song of Songs of Terrestrial Love.' The performance was repeated sixteen times at Bayreuth, where many people had come from all parts of the world to hear and see it, and has since been revived a number of times. It is the most difficult and least easily understood of the master's intricate works, and bears the imprint not only of his philosophical studies, but also of the spirit of Oriental mysticism, in which he delighted, and which he at one time intended to make use of for the stage.
The opera opens in the forest, where Gurnemanz, an old servant of Amfortas, guardian of the Holy Grail, is lying asleep with two squires. Suddenly, reveille sounds from the top of Mount Salvat, the sacred hill upon which the temple stands. Gurnemanz, springing to his feet, rouses the squires, and bids them prepare the bath for their ailing master, who will soon appear as is his daily custom.
This Amfortas, whose coming they momentarily expect, is the son of Titurel, the founder of the temple erected on Mount Salvat for the reception of the Holy Grail, a vessel in which Joseph of Arimathea caught a few drops of blood from the dying Redeemer's side, after it had served as chalice during the Last Supper. Titurel, feeling too old to continue his office as guardian of the Grail, appointed Amfortas as his successor, giving him the sacred lance which pierced the Saviour's side, and told him that none could resist him as long as he wielded it and kept himself perfectly pure.
During many years Amfortas led a stainless life, defending the Holy Grail from every foe, performing all his sacred offices with exemplary piety, and teaching the Knights of the Grail to fight for the right, and rescue the feeble and oppressed. He also sent out messengers to all parts of the world to right the wrong, whenever called upon to do so, by the words which suddenly appeared and glowed like fire around the edge of the mystic vase. All the knights who served the Holy Grail were not only fed with celestial viands by its power alone, but were endowed with resistless might, which assured their victory everywhere as long as they remained unknown. They had moreover the privilege of recovering, as if by magic, from every wound. Of course, many knights were desirous of being admitted into the temple, but none except those whose lives were pure and whose purposes lofty were ever accepted. When Klingsor, the magician, attempted to enter, therefore, he was repulsed. In his anger he established himself upon the other side of the mountain, where, summoning all the arts of magic to his aid, he called up delusions of every kind. Thus he beguiled many of the knights in search of the Holy Grail, caught them in his toils and led them on to sin, until they were unfit for the holy life to which they had once aspired.
Amfortas, hearing of this, and too confident in his own strength, sallied forth one day, armed with the sacred lance, determined to destroy Klingsor, and put an end to his magic. But alas! he had no sooner entered the magician's garden, where roamed a host of lovely maidens trained to lure all men to sin, than he yielded to the blandishments of the fairest among them. Carelessly flinging his sacred lance aside, he gave himself up to the delights of passion. Such was his bewitched condition that he never even noticed the stealthy approach of the magician, who seized the lance and thrust it into his side. This deep wound, which had refused to heal ever since, caused him incessant tortures, which were increased rather than diminished whenever he uncovered the Holy Grail.
Although no remedy could allay this torture, the Holy Grail decreed that it should be stilled by a guileless fool, who, enlightened by pity, would find the only cure. But, as he tarried, many knights travelled all over the world in search of simples, and Kundry, a wild, witch-like woman, also sought in vain to relieve him.
While the squires, in obedience to Gurnemanz's orders, prepare the bath, Kundry comes riding wildly on the scene. In breathless haste she thrusts a curious little flask into Gurnemanz's hand, telling him it is a precious balsam she has brought from a great distance to alleviate Amfortas's suffering. She is so exhausted by her long ride that she flings herself upon the ground, where she remains while a little procession comes down the hill. It is composed of knights bearing the wounded Amfortas, and they set the litter down for a moment, as the king gives vent to heart-rending groans. To soothe him, his attendants remind him that there are many more remedies to try, and Gurnemanz adds that, failing all others, they can always rely upon the promise of the Holy Grail, and await the coming of the guileless fool. When Amfortas learns that Kundry has made another attempt to help him, he thanks her kindly, but his gentle words only seem to increase her distress, for she writhes uneasily on the ground and refuses all thanks.
When the king and his bearers have gone down the hill, and have passed out of sight, the squires begin chaffing poor Kundry. She gazes upon them with the wild eyes of an animal at bay, until Gurnemanz comes to her rescue, and chides the youths. He tells them that although she may once have been, as they declare, under a curse, she has repented of her sins, and serves the Holy Grail with a humility and singleness of purpose which they would do well to imitate rather than deride.
In answer to their questions, he then goes on to describe how Amfortas received the grievous wound which causes him such intolerable pain, and lost the sacred spear, which only enhances Klingsor's power for evil, and which none but a stainless knight can ever recover. Their quiet conversation is brusquely interrupted by the heavy fall of a swan, which lies dead at their feet. This arouses their keenest indignation, for the rules of the order forbid any deed of violence within sight or hearing of the sacred edifice containing the Holy Grail. Gazing around in search of the culprit, they soon behold the youth Parsifal, clad in the rough and motley garments of a fool, and when Gurnemanz angrily reproves him, and questions him concerning his name and origin, he is amazed by the ignorance the lad displays.
By the help of Kundry, however, who, having travelled everywhere, knows everything, Gurnemanz finally ascertains that the youth is a descendant of the royal family, his father, Gamuret, having died when he was born. His mother, Herzeloide (Heart's Affliction), has brought him up in utter solitude and ignorance, to prevent his becoming a knight and leave her perchance to fall in battle:—
'Bereft of father his mother bore him. For in battle perished Gamuret: From like untimely hero's death To save her offspring, strange to arms She reared him a witless fool in deserts.'
The youth, however, pays no heed to Kundry's explanations, but goes on to tell Gurnemanz that he saw some men riding through the forest in glittering array, and followed them through the world with no other weapon than the bow he had manufactured. But when Kundry again interrupts him, declaring that his sudden disappearance has caused his mother's death, he shows the greatest sensibility, and even faints with grief.
While the squires gently bathe his face and hands to bring him back to life, Kundry, feeling the sudden and overpowering desire for sleep which often mysteriously overpowers her, creeps reluctantly into a neighbouring thicket, where she immediately sinks into a comatose state. In the mean while, the king's procession comes up from the bath, and slowly passes across the stage and up the hill. Gurnemanz, whose heart has been filled with a sudden hope that the youth before him may be the promised guileless fool who alone can cure the king, puts an arm around him, gently raises him, and, supporting his feeble footsteps, leads him up the hill. They walk along dark passages, and finally come into the great hall on the top of Mount Salvat, which is empty now, and where only the sound of the bells in the dome is heard as Gurnemanz says to Parsifal:—
'Now give good heed, and let me see, If thou 'rt a Fool and pure What wisdom thou presently canst secure.'
Parsifal, the unsophisticated youth, stands spellbound at the marvels he beholds, nor does he move when the great doors open, and the Knights of the Grail come marching in, singing of the mystic vessel and of its magic properties. This strain is taken up not only by the youths who follow them, but also by a boy choir in the dome which is intended to represent the angels. When the knights have all taken their places, the doors open again to admit the bearers of the sacred vessel, which is kept in a shrine. They are followed by Amfortas, in his litter, and when he has been carefully laid upon a couch, and the vessel has been placed upon the altar before him, all bow down in silent prayer. Suddenly the silence is broken by the voice of the aged Titurel. He is lying in a niche in the rear of the hall, and calls solemnly upon his son to uncover the Holy Grail, and give him a sight of the glorious vessel, which alone can renew his failing strength. The boys are about to remove the veil when Amfortas suddenly detains them, and begins a passionate protest, relating how his sufferings increase every time he beholds the Grail. He implores his father to resume the sacred office, and wildly asks how long his sufferings must endure. To this appeal the angels' voices respond by repeating the prophecy made by the Holy Grail:—
'By pity 'lightened The guileless Fool— Wait for him My chosen tool.'
Strengthened by this reminder of ultimate relief, and by the voice of the knights and of Titurel again calling for the uncovering of the Grail, Amfortas takes the crystal cup from its shrine, bends over it in devout prayer, while the angel voices above chant a sort of communion service, and the hall is gradually darkened. Suddenly a beam of blinding light shoots down through the dome and falls upon the cup, which 'glows with an increased purple lustre,' while Amfortas holds it above his head, and gently waves it to and fro, so that its mystic light can be seen by all the knights and squires, who have sunk to their knees.
Titurel hails the sight with a pious ejaculation, and when Amfortas has replaced the vessel in the shrine the beam of light disappears, daylight again fills the hall, and knights and squires begin to partake of the bread and wine before them, a feast to which Gurnemanz invites the amazed Parsifal by a mute gesture. The youth is too astonished to accept; he remains spellbound, while the invisible choir resume their chant, which is taken up first by the youths' voices, and then by the knights, and ends only as the meal draws to a close, and Amfortas is borne out, preceded by the Holy Grail and followed by the long train of knights and squires.
Gurnemanz and Parsifal alone remain. The Fool, though guileless, has not been enlightened by pity to inquire the cause of Amfortas's wound. He has thus missed his opportunity to cure him, and Gurnemanz, indignant at his boundless stupidity, opens a side door, and thrusts him out into the forest, uttering a contemptuous dismissal.
'Thou art then nothing but a Fool! Come away, on thy road be gone And put my rede to use: Leave all our swans for the future alone And seek thyself, gander, a goose.'
The second act represents the inner keep of Klingsor's castle, the magician himself being seated on the battlement. He is gazing intently into the magic mirror, wherein all the world may be seen, and comments with malicious glee upon Parsifal's ejection from the temple of the Holy Grail and his approach to his enchanted ground.
Laying aside his magic mirror, Klingsor then begins one of his uncanny spells, and in the midst of a bluish vapor calls up Kundry from the enchanted sleep into which his art has bound her. He tells her that, although she has succeeded in escaping his power for a short time, and has gone over to the enemy whom she has done all in her power to serve, he now requires her to exercise all her fascinations to beguile Parsifal away from the path of virtue, as she once lured Amfortas, the king and guardian of the Holy Grail.
In vain the half awakened Kundry struggles and tries to resist his power, Klingsor has her again in his toils, and once more compels her, much against her wishes, to execute his will. Just as Parsifal, overcoming all resistance, drives away the guards of the castle and springs up on the ramparts, the magician waves his wand. He and his tower sink from view, and a beautiful garden appears, in which lovely damsels flit excitedly about in very scanty attire. After a few moments spent in motionless admiration of the scene before him, Parsifal springs down into the garden, where he is immediately surrounded by the fair nymphs. They pull him this way and that, tease and cajole him, and use all their wiles to attract his attention and win his admiration. Seeing him very indifferent to their unadorned charms, a few of them hastily retire into a bower, where they don gay flower costumes, in which they soon appear before him, winding in and out in the gay mazes of the dance.
Their youthful companions immediately follow their example, and also try to beguile Parsifal by their flower hues, their kisses and caresses, but he stands stolidly by until Kundry, who is now no longer a terrible and haggard witch, but a fair enchantress reclining upon a bed of roses, calls him to her side.
As in a dream, Parsifal obeys her summons, while the flower nymphs flit away to their respective bowers. Wonderingly he now inquires how Kundry knows his name, and again hears her relate how she was present at his birth, watched over his childhood, and witnessed the death of his mother. At this mention the youth is again overcome with grief. To comfort him, Kundry, the enchantress, tenderly embraces him, and lavishes soft words upon him, but all her caresses have no effect, except to awaken in his heart a sudden miraculous comprehension of all he has seen. Love is suddenly born in his heart, but it is not the evil passion which Kundry had striven to bring to life, but the pure, unselfish feeling which enables one human being to understand and sympathise with another. He now knows that Amfortas yielded to passion's spell, and in punishment suffered the spear wound in his side, and realizes that he alone could have given him relief. Moved to sudden indignation by his compassion, he flings Kundry's caressing arms aside, promising, however, to help her win her own redemption, if she will only tell him how to save Amfortas, and will reveal who wielded the spear which dealt the fatal wound. But Kundry, who is acting now entirely under Klingsor's influence, and not by her own volition, seeing she cannot lure him to sin, and that he is about to escape forever, shrieks frantically for help, cursing him vehemently, and declaring that he will have to wander long ere he can again find a way to the realm of the Holy Grail. Her piercing screams bring the flower damsels and Klingsor upon the scene, and the latter, standing upon the rampart, flings the holy spear at Parsifal, expecting to wound him as grievously as Amfortas. But the youth has committed no sin, he is quite pure; so the spear remains poised above his head, until he stretches out his hand, and, seizing it, makes a sign of the cross, adjuring the magic to cease:—
'This sign I make, and ban thy cursed magic: As the wound shall be closed Which thou with this once clovest,— To wrack and to ruin Falls thy unreal display!'
At the holy sign, the enchanter's delusions vanish, maidens and gardens disappear, and Kundry sinks motionless upon the arid soil, while Parsifal springs over the broken wall, calling out that they shall meet again.
The third act is played also upon the slopes of the mountain, upon which the temple stands. Many years have elapsed, however, and Gurnemanz, bent with age, slowly comes out of his hut at the sound of a groan in a neighbouring thicket. The sounds are repeated until the good old man, who has assumed the garb of a hermit, searches in the thicket, and, tearing the brambles aside, finds the witch Kundry in one of her lethargic states. He has seen her so before in days gone by, and, dragging her rigid form out from the thicket, he proceeds to restore her to life. Wildly as of old her eyes roll about, but she has no sooner come to her senses than she clamours for some work to do for the Holy Grail, and proceeds to draw water and perform sundry menial tasks. Gurnemanz, watching her closely, comments upon her altered behaviour, and expresses a conviction that she will ultimately be saved, since she has returned to the Grail after many years on the morning of Good Friday.
He is so occupied in examining her that he does not notice the approach of Parsifal, clad in black armour, with closed helmet and lowered spear, and it is only when Kundry calls his attention to the stranger that he welcomes him, but without recognizing him in the least.
Parsifal, however, has not forgotten the old man whom he has sought so long in vain, and is, so overcome by emotion that he cannot speak. He obeys Gurnemanz's injunctions to remove his arms, as none dare enter the holy precincts of the Holy Grail in martial array, and, planting the spear he recovered from Klingsor into the ground, he bends the knee before it, and returns silent thanks that his quest is ended, and he may at last be vouchsafed to quiet the pain which Amfortas still endures. While he is wrapt in prayer, Gurnemanz, staring at him, suddenly recognizes him as the Guileless Fool who came so long ago, and imparts his knowledge to Kundry, who confirms it. Parsifal, having finished his prayer, and recovered the power of speech, now greets Gurnemanz, and in answer to his question says that he has wandered long, and expresses a fervent hope that he has not come too late to retrieve his former fault:—
'Through error and through suffering lay my pathway; May I believe that I have freed me from it, Now that this forest's murmur Falls upon my senses, And worthy voice of age doth welcome? Or yet—is 't new error? All's altered here meseemeth.'
Gurnemanz is almost overcome with joy when he hears the young man declare that he has brought back the sacred lance undefiled, although he has suffered much to defend it from countless foes who would fain have wrested it from him. As Parsifal now begins eagerly to question him, he mournfully relates that times have changed indeed. Amfortas still lives, and suffers untold tortures from his unhealed wound, but Titurel, the aged king, no longer quickened by the sight of the Holy Grail, (which has never again been unveiled since his unhappy visit,) has slowly passed away, and has closed his eyes in a last sleep. At these sad tidings Parsifal faints with remorse, and Gurnemanz and Kundry restore him with water from the holy spring, with which they also wash away all the soil of travel. As he comes to life again, inquiring whether he will be allowed to see Amfortas, Gurnemanz tells him that the knights are to assemble once more in the temple, as of old, to celebrate Titurel's obsequies, and that Amfortas has solemnly promised to unveil the Holy Grail, although at the cost of suffering to himself. He wishes to comfort the knights, who have lost all their courage and strength, and are no longer called upon to go forth and battle for the right in the name of the Grail.
To enable Parsifal to appear in the temple, Gurnemanz now baptises him with water from the spring, and Kundry, anointing his feet with a costly perfume, wipes them with her hair. Parsifal rewards her for this humble office by baptising her in his turn. Then Gurnemanz anoints Parsifal's head with the same ointment, for it is decreed he shall be king, and after he and Kundry have helped him to don the usual habit of the servants of the Holy Grail they proceed, as in the first act, to the temple, and once more enter the great hall.
As they appear, the doors open, and two processions enter, chanting a mournful refrain. Ten knights bear the bier containing Titurel's corpse, the others carry the wasted form of the wounded king. The chorus ended, the coffin is opened, and at the sight of the dead Titurel all the assistants cry out in distress. No wail is so bitter, however, as that of Amfortas, who mournfully addresses his dead father, imploring him to intercede for him before the heavenly throne, and to obtain for him the long hoped for and long expected release.
Then he bids the knights uncover the Holy Grail; but ere they can do so he bursts out into a paroxysm of grief, exposing his bleeding and throbbing wound, and declaring he has not the courage to endure the sacred beam of light from the Holy Grail. But, unnoticed by all, Parsifal, Gurnemanz, and Kundry have drawn near. Suddenly the youth extends the sacred spear, and, touching Amfortas with its point, declares that its power alone can stanch the blood and heal the wounded side, and pronounces the absolution of his sin:—
'Be whole, unsullied and absolved, For I now govern in thy place. Oh blessed be thy sorrows, For Pity's potent might And Knowledge's purest power They taught a timid Fool.'
No sooner has the sacred point touched the wound than it is indeed healed, and while Amfortas sinks tottering with emotion into the arms of Gurnemanz, all the knights gaze enraptured at the spear. Then Parsifal announces that he is commanded by Divine decree to become the guardian of the Grail, which he unveils and reverently receives into his hands.
Once more the hall is darkened, once more the beam of refulgent light illumines the gloom, and, as Parsifal slowly waves the vessel to and fro, a snowy dove, the emblem of the Holy Grail, hovers lightly over his head.
Suddenly the beam of light falls across the face of the dead Titurel, who, coming to life again in its radiance, raises his hand in fervent blessing ere he sinks back once more to peaceful rest. Kundry, too, has seen the Holy Grail before her eyes closed in death, and Amfortas, cured and forgiven, joins the knights and invisible choir in praising God for his great mercy, which endures forever.
 See the author's 'Legends of the Middle Ages,' in press.